Schoolgirl HIV infections alarmingly high

11 March 2019 | Health

Studies have found that Namibian schoolgirls have double the rate of HIV infection compared to their male peers.

For this reason, several non-governmental organisations, in partnership with the government, have established the DREAMS project which seeks to prevent new HIV infections among young women.

At an event hosted at the Ekulo Senior Secondary School near Omuthiya recently, the DREAMS project introduced an after-school platform where schoolgirls can discuss matters that they are too shy to talk about in class.

The programme caters to girls from 16 schools in the Oshikoto Region.

“The Namibia Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (NAMPHIA) 2017 survey that went to all the regions of Namibia found that adolescent girls and young women have a high infection rate of HIV, twice as high as boys and young men,” said Frieda Katuta of Project Hope Namibia.

She said the organisation also offered programmes for these girls' parents and sexual partners.

The Project Hope country director, Rosalia Indongo, said they organised holiday camps for schoolgirls as part of the DREAMS project in December, which were attended by 2 700 girls in Oshikoto.

“We want to convey the correct information on HIV, sexual and reproductive health, and gender-based violence. We expect our adolescent girls and young women to use this information to make informed decisions, such as delaying their sexual debut, which from our assessment is as young as 12 years old,” Indongo said.

“Surely parents and teachers would agree with me that this is a time for our girls to play with dolls, learn household chores and not to have sex.

“We need to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in our schools, especially in the ages 14 to 18 years old. Many of the 16 schools we are working in were chosen because of their high teenage pregnancies.”

Indongo said the DREAMS project recently established the Safe Spaces afternoon programme, which is mainly aimed at tackling children's personal problems.

“Should a girl find herself unable to avoid sex, we can support her to access sexual reproductive health counselling services and, if possible, family planning.

“It is sad to have a 14-, 15-, 16-, 17- or 18-year-old as a mother. Let us help our girls though the DREAMS programme to reduce this very concerning trend in our country.

“We also want our girls to stay HIV free. The Namibian statistics show that although the epidemic is generally slowing down, new infections in the younger age groups of girls aged 15 to 19 and 20 to 24 show an upward trend.

“The DREAMS programme is here to support the reversal of this trend,” she added.

The DREAMS programme has been implemented in the Khomas, Oshikoto and Zambezi regions.

The project is led by Project Hope Namibia and supported by IntraHealth, LifeLine/ChildLine, Star for Life, the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA), Project Hope US and the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust).

It is funded by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Indongo said they expected to reach 27 000 schoolgirls this year alone. Indongo thanked the ministry of education, regional councils, traditional leaders and parents for making it possible for Project Hope Namibia and its partners to ensure the smooth implementation of activities both in school and at community level.



ILENI NANDJATO